AUSTIN, Tex.—Not long ago, inner cities were riddled with crime and blight and affluent white residents high-tailed it to the suburbs, seeking better schools, safer streets, and, in some cases, fewer minority neighbors.
But today, as affluent white residents return to center cities, people who have lived there for years are finding they can’t afford to stay.
Take the case of the capital city of Texas, where parts of East Austin, right next to downtown, are in the process of becoming whiter, and hip restaurants, coffee shops, and even a bar catering to bicyclists are opening. Much of Austin’s minority population, meanwhile, is priced out, and so they’re moving to far-out suburbs such as Pflugerville and Round Rock, where rents are affordable and commutes are long.
“It’s a very bitter pill to swallow for families to be priced out as it becomes a desirable neighborhood,” Mark Rogers, the executive director of the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation (GNDC), told me.
Rogers and other groups have a bold plan to try and reverse this course: Make homes in the area affordable—forever.
How, exactly? Rogers is developing community land trusts, through which a local nonprofit acquires a parcel of land and pledges to use it for purposes that benefit the neighborhood, whether that be food production or affordable housing. In the housing model, the nonprofit builds a home on the land and sells it to someone in need. But the nonprofit retains ownership of the land that the house sits on, leasing it to the homeowner for a designated time period, typically 99 years. Dividing the structure from the land has two important benefits: It ensures that the land won’t be sold to developers by keeping it in the community’s possession, but still allows people to buy a home and earn equity on the structure.